The Dec. 23 storm swept over the breakwater in Belfast Harbor and left behind debris following high tide, as well as an estimated $118,000 in damages. Credit: Kay Neufeld / BDN

The city of Belfast estimates damage from the major storm that blew hurricane-force winds through Maine on Dec. 23 will cost $118,684 to repair. 

The storm tore through public infrastructure like the Belfast Boathouse, the public boat launch,  docks and trees. It also required all hands on deck from city employees across various departments to ensure safety during the storm and clean up afterward.

It’s certainly not Belfast’s first time handling the aftermath of a powerful storm. A similar storm swept through the city in October 2017 that damaged boats, knocked down trees and caused ongoing power outages. A 2020 report from The Maine Climate Council said extreme weather events like these have become more frequent and — working in tandem with rising sea levels — could cause more flooding and damage to infrastructure.

City councilors and Mayor Eric Sanders shared concerns at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that climate change could cause further damage in the future.

“You’re gonna have more variations of storms and weather patterns, which lead to disruption,” Sanders said.

Following the storm, the city of Belfast submitted a preliminary damage assessment to the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Belfast took its biggest hits in debris removal and damage to parks, recreational and other infrastructure in the city. 

The city estimates debris removal will cost $33,000, including $8,000 in damages to the Steamboat Wharf and $5,000 to remove fallen trees. Belfast also estimates that repairing damage to docks, equipment, pilings and ramps will cost $39,000.  

City Manager Erin Herbig said the estimated cost of repairs is large not just because of the actual damage the storm caused, but also the time and resources it will take to repair it. 

The timeline to complete all of the repairs is not yet clear. City Hall has submitted requests to the city’s insurance provider and the MEMA for financial assistance. Some of the work is already done, like debris removal, but Herbig said the city is waiting for the state to approve the requests before finishing all of the repairs.

“We’re ready to resolve it, but it comes at a cost,” she said.

Herbig’s report on the damages at Tuesday’s council meeting sparked discussion about how many repairs the city is going to have to do as climate change causes more extreme weather events. 

Councilor Mike Hurley said it’s counterproductive to rebuild certain infrastructure like the fencing around the Belfast Boathouse after it’s already been damaged by two other storms.

“We’re going to get more of this kind of stuff and we gotta start making decisions with that in consideration,” Councilor Neal Harkness agreed. “To keep rebuilding that back there without … something more durable, I think is fool art.”

As a result, the council is reconsidering the current state of public infrastructure, including the safety of the Belfast Boathouse and a plan to rebuild a taller, higher breakwater with more durable materials in Belfast Harbor where it is.

“[The breakwater is] serviceable, but it’s not stopping those crushing waves when they crash over it,” Sanders said. “We need to figure out a plan of attack.”